The council depot on the north side of Mill Road, west of the railway line is due to be redeveloped for housing. The developer will be Cambridge Investment Partnership (CIP), a joint venture between Cambridge City Council and Hill, a commercial housebuilder.
Response to initial consultation by CIP
Inadequate ambition on car usage
Average car ownership in Petersfield and Romsey is much lower than is being proposed in the depot site plans. The apartments recently built around Great Northern Rd in CB1 have 48 parking spaces for 137 units, a ratio of 35%. CIP are proposing about 210 spaces for about 230 units, a ratio of 91%.
We would like to see a large reduction in allocation for surface parking in order to create more public space, a more attractive environment, and more affordable houses. The only surface provision should be for loading, tradespeople, shared cars (e.g. Zipcar) and disabled parking.
Parking (or, more accurately for most people, car storage) provision for the entire site could be contained in the basement of the apartment block. Houses could be provided with more living space and a covered, secure storage space for bikes, gardening equipment, workshop, or whatever – considerably smaller than the proposed garages.
Need for affordability
We want to see a clear commitment to substantially more than 40% affordable housing, and for ‘affordable’ to mean genuinely affordable to ordinary people, with a mix of rented and different ownership structures.
We are concerned that the partnership with Hill means that there will be too much emphasis on generating profit, rather than satisfying the social need for affordable housing. We understand that Hill brings valuable expertise, but it is not clear who is driving this project and for whose benefit. This needs to be articulated clearly with no moving of goalposts later on. This is a unique opportunity to provide for many current and future generations of Cambridge residents. It must not be squandered or compromised.
Petersfield is short of attractive, usable public space. The most recent additions, Ravensworth Gardens and St Matthew’s Gardens are both disconnected from the wider communities, and therefore underused. For public spaces to be well-used and loved, they must be visible, adjacent to and readily accessible from a major public thoroughfare.
The local community would like to see more than the minimum amount of open space required on this site. A number of recent developments in the area have avoided their Section 106 obligation to provide public space by making a payment to the council instead. As there is no other land available to develop for open space, it has been spent instead on “improvements”. We need more green space!
The best locations for open space on the site are on the south-east corner, which is visible, adjacent to and accessible from Mill Rd; and the north side adjacent to Hooper St.
The initial plan differs greatly from the SPD in having large houses built in the south-east corner. This is not the most desirable location to have a house, being overlooked from the bridge, shaded by trees, and exposed to the greatest road noise. Better to have an open space large enough for people to kick a ball around without causing a nuisance to neighbours. The space would also be ideal for community events, e.g. as part of Mill Rd fairs.
The northern space, incorporating a children’s play area, would be well used by residents of St Matthew’s, being far from traffic noise and pollution.
Some open space should of course be included within the site too, but larger spaces will see more use than many disconnected small pieces.
This site must aspire to be award-winning, and a reference for future developments. We want to to see high quality architecture that is crafted, sympathetic to the local area, and interestingly innovative. The urban design, architecture and landscaping should promote a happy and engaged community. The development should demonstrate best practices in sustainable design, for energy and water consumption, drainage, waste disposal, etc.
Car parks off Hooper St
The cost of waiting for Hooper St garage leases to expire, then redeveloping the site at a later date must be considerably greater than doing it when access and machinery is available from the main site. There is also a large opportunity cost in not providing the ten or so new houses that could be built on the site.
The garages are an ugly waste of valuable space. They no longer serve the purpose for which they were originally intended (to remove cars from Ainsworth and other local streets) as they are let to people well outside the immediate locality and most likely used for general storage.
We understand that at least some current leaseholders have already been approached and rejected whatever offer was made to them. This is too important an issue to leave there. A full cost-benefit analysis must be carried out (with an upper cost limit based on valuations for compulsory purchase – which would not of course be made public). More creative thought should be put into developing options to offer current leaseholders like-for-like or better alternatives.
Hooper St access road
The blocked-off access from Hooper St appears to take up valuable space for little purpose. There is no obvious benefit for refuse trucks, which will need to make a circuit of the site, not go through it.
It would be a more efficient use of space to provide a single pedestrian/cycle access point to the site (which could be wide enough for an emergency vehicle) opposite Ainsworth St. The cycle lane would split off towards the railway line and the footway would continue straight on through the development (and be landscaped so as to be less attractive as a cycling route).
The workshops organised to develop the SPD were well-attended and positive. Much was lost in translation in the SPD, and there is a growing feeling that the SPD, and now the initial concepts, are departing significantly from the vision that the community was developing. I would urge CIP to run another workshop or two before committing to detailed designs. Exhibitions have their place, but they are not the most effective way to gather ideas. Well-run workshops promote dialogue, understanding and trust. That’s what we all need!
Supplementary Planning Document
The City Council drew up a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) that sets out a framework for how the site will be developed.
There is much to be commended about the SPD, but it seems that few of the issues raised in earlier consultations have been taken aboard (e.g. with regards to joining up the green spaces, being zero car, removing or relocating the garages (e.g. underground), sustainability (e.g. energy production and water conservation), and integrating the Chisholm Trail cycle route).
There is a desperate need in Petersfield for accessible, usable green space. The SPD reserves quite a lot of land for green space, but it’s not as accessible to the wider community as it needs to be (think of the underused Ravensworth Gardens pocket park). If more of the open space at the depot were joined up, visible and easily accessed from Mill Road, it would see more use – day-to-day and for community events.
The SPD was approved by the Development Plan Scrutiny Sub-Committee on Wednesday, 22nd March, 2017.